Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paying it Forward

During the holidays, you hear many heartwarming stories about people paying it forward. McDonald’s and Starbucks have had a person pay for the next car, and that person, in turn pays it forward too. Chain reactions of generosity have been known to last for hours. It is really cool to hear about these fast food pay-it-forward lines, and it helps restore faith in human kindness and thoughtfulness, but real pay it forward heroes are those who make it a way of life.

Volunteering is the best way of paying it forward and is one of the reasons that people volunteer. There may be a few glory grabbing volunteers, mostly high profile people, who show up for an event or catastrophe for a photo op. But those are the exceptions. Most volunteers fly far below the radar, doing their best to give more to the world than they take.

Some people admire volunteers for doing what they don’t feel like they have the time to do. The thing I have noticed is that the busiest people make the best volunteers.

What makes a person volunteer? It could be an internal desire to help others, but often a major event spurs us to take action.

I am a prime example. At one time, I never volunteered for anything. I figured my life was busy enough with a full time job and family to take care of. I was fully aware I didn’t have time to volunteer for anything and when I got pulled into helping, I wasn’t always the most cheerful or willing person in the group. Sure, I wanted to do a good job, but often my heart just wasn’t in it.

My entire attitude and outlook changed when Jim developed dementia. The more I learned about the disease, the more motivated I was to do whatever I could to help. My first true heartfelt volunteer work was our local Memory Walk. I jumped in with both feet and spent countless hours strategizing how to have a successful walk.

Since then, volunteering has become a way of life for me. I only volunteer for causes and organizations I believe in—and only for tasks I think I can complete, and complete competently. If it falls out of my area of expertise, then I decline because I don’t want to bungle the job.

Acts of kindness for another, without thought of how it can benefit you, is paying it forward. All you have to do is look around for opportunities. Do you have an elderly neighbor who needs someone to help with yard work? Do you know a caregiver that needs to run to the store, but needs someone to watch a loved one with dementia for a short time? Maybe you know the server at your favorite restaurant has financial problems, yet she serves you with a smile. What if you left her a $50 tip instead of $5?

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook, that said, "Taking this challenge from a friend: 2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward. The first five people to comment on this status will receive from me, sometime in the next calendar year, a gift—perhaps a book or baked goods, or a candle, music,—  a  surprise! There will likely be no warning & it will happen whenever the mood strikes me. The catch? Those five people must make the same offer as their status.

My immediate reaction: “I’m in!” I reposted and now I have five friends that will probably forget all about this. They are going to be pleasantly surprised to receive an unexpected gift, and I will have the pleasure of deciding what and when.

Paying it forward isn’t about big things at all, it is about little kindnesses to brighten someone’s day. It isn’t about getting a pat on the back, it’s about just doing what feels right in your heart. Paying it forward will help the giver as much as it helps the person who receives.

Copyright © January 2013 by L.S. Fisher